A rare treat
Jean Guillou plays the complete organ works of César Franck, reviewed by TESS CREBBIN
The Liege-born composer César Franck started out as a pianist and then took lessons in harmony and counterpoint in Paris from Reicha (the teacher of Liszt, Berlioz and Gounod) before he turned his composition skills to creating a series of fine works for the instrument he loved most: the organ. Franck's compositions for organ are in three sections: Six pièces (1860-2), Trois pièces (1878), and Trois Chorals (1890). Characteristic of Franck's style are rich chromaticism, repetition of key melodic motives with the crucial rising interval enlarged in the repetition and ingenious use of contrapuntal procedures.
This two CD set of Franck's complete organ works contains all of the above-mentioned pieces. Of special interest is the Choral No 2 in B minor
[listen -- CD 1 track 5, 0:01-1:39]
that begins as a set of variations on a theme given out by the pedal and then expands into a kind of codetta. Franck composed the three chorals in August and September 1890 after he was injured in a carriage accident. An attack of pleurisy led to his death in November that year and so they are his last compositions.
The Prelude, Fugue and Variation in B minor (Op 18) is like a mini-concert in itself. The fugue
[listen -- CD 2 track 3, 4:06-5:31].
is announced through a chordal transition, which builds the bridge from the oboe solo in the prelude, and then goes into a three-voice canon. Then the prelude theme returns, above pedal point, with a new accompaniment. It all ends with the opening theme as a short fugato, with the second theme superimposed, and final echoes of repeated Bs. Another absolute highlight is the Prière in C sharp minor
[listen -- CD 2 track 5, 1:30-3:02],
a thematic masterpiece where the second theme is introduced by the pedal and comes out of a quasi-chorale at the onset.
The CD is a rare treat for organ lovers and, in fact, also for anyone considering composition for this instrument -- aside from the pure auditory enjoyment it brings to the listener, there is much to be learned in contrapuntal terms from César Franck.